Friday, June 09, 2006

Pratfall Patty

Have you ever seen old movies of Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin taking a pratfall? They slip on a piece of ice or turn a corner too fast, and BAM! down they go. I like to use the remote to slow motion the action to study how they do it. It’s similar to Judo. Arms and hands are used to absorb the blow, a suppleness to the spine is added, and the Bam! is really not so bad after all.

The first time I met Pratfall Patty was her first day in the fifth grade, and her family accompanied her to school. Her uncle was a dwarf, her brother was a stark white albino, and her mother was extremely short and highly stocky. Kids wear their heart on their sleeve, and I could see she was mortified to have her family there. I paid no attention to her feelings and welcomed her family like all the others, but I could see she was embarrassed and I don’t judge her for that.

I call her Pratfall Patty because that was her way of getting attention. It started on trips to the chalkboard. There would be an imaginary chair leg or a desk or a foot in her way and down she’d go. She’d give a big, long, embarrassing laugh, and everyone would laugh too. A person falling down is hilarious to kids. Broken bones? That’s for old people. A good fall is funnier than a Seinfeld episode to a fifth grader. Pratfall Patty started slowly, and at first I would go along with it and make a joke. I’d yell out, “We have a kid down!” or “We need a cleanup on aisle 6. We have a kid down!” But as her pratfalls grew in frequency, they became a tired, wearisome attention getting device. To stop her, I didn’t want to talk about her pratfalls. That’s too obvious. I am more devious.

I started complimenting Patty on her looks. It would either be her shoes, or her hair, something real, not made up. Then, when she’d take a nosedive for a good laugh, I’d say, “That sure wasn’t pretty. Yuk!” It took longer than I thought. A couple of months. I’d compliment her more and more but tell her how ugly her falls were. There was one problem to my “solution.” I decided to tell the principal what I was doing to “keep things on the up and up,” and we both agreed that I should never ever be alone with Patty. I complimented her appearance frequently, and I would say how her fall didn’t look very pretty. Her pratfalls slowly died away.

On the last day of school, I was at a computer and shutting it down for storage. I remember one of the parents was in the room taking sentimental photos and she had a camera. Patty was talking to me about her summer plans and right in the middle of some sentence about the new middle school she would be attending, Patty stopped talking, hugged me, and started crying. I was surprised, especially because I was always on guard with Patty about contact. I looked at the parent who was touched by the expression of love Patty was showing me. It was obvious Patty did not want to talk about her summer. She wanted to tell me she was going to miss me, but with Patty, many things were sublimated and unconscious. The parent started to take a picture of Patty hugging me, so I hugged Patty back and told her for the last time, “Patty, you’re beautiful. Then I whispered in her ear, “You’re the prettiest girl in the school.” She must have hugged me for a whole minute.

I hope there is somebody out there that keeps her on her feet, who keeps her from taking a header into the floor for attention. All it takes is some confidence building compliments.

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